[Press and Publications] UK Astronomers 'see' Star Births [Physics; Computing; Industry]

October 2000

No 187


British astronomers have followed the birth of a cluster of stars like our Sun in unprecedented detail. Their trailblazing calculation was performed at a new national computing facility for astronomy sited at the University of Leicester.

This new facility, directed by Professor Andrew King of the University of Leicester and Professor James Pringle of the University of Cambridge, will keep UK astronomers ahead of the world in the computation of a wide variety of astronomical phenomena, from the birth of stars to their spectacular deaths as they collapse to form black holes.

‘This facility is just what we need in our attempts to understand recent discoveries of planets around other suns,’ said Professor King.

The United Kingdom Astrophysical Fluids Facility (UKAFF) is a £5.9 million project funded jointly by the government and the computer company Silicon Graphics, with further support from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.

The facility will be formally opened by Dr John Taylor, Director General of the UK Research Councils, on October 31st.

The computation of the birth of a cluster of stars was led by Dr Matthew Bate of the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. Stretching the UKAFF supercomputer to its limits during its initial tests, he was able to follow the collapse of a cool gas cloud as it shrank inwards under its own weight and broke into about 100 individual stars. Most of the gas was expelled back into space by heat from the stars, which themselves emerged as a cluster of new—born stars like the Pleiades in Orion.

The kinds of calculations carried out by astronomers are closely analogous to ones needed in industrial applications, such as supersonic flight and the design of car engines. Most astronomy graduates eventually make careers in high—tech industry. ‘This new facility will give a boost to the training of young scientists in the use of high—performance computers,’ said Professor Pringle.

The facility operates a 128 processor supercomputer supplied, and 50 per cent funded, by Silicon Graphics, located within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester. It is a national facility, available to any researcher within the UK studying astrophysical fluids. It is the third largest academic supercomputer in the UK, and the largest dedicated to a single area of science.

Note To Editors:

Photocall And Interview Opportunities on Tuesday 31 October 2000:

The formal opening of UKAFF will take place on Tuesday 31 October 2000, at 12.00 noon, at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester. The University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Burgess, will introduce Dr John Taylor, Director General of the UK Research Councils, who will officially open the facility. There will be a photo and interview opportunity.

Further details are available www.ukaff.ac.uk, or from:

  • Professor Andrew King, Director, UKAFF, University of Leicester, telephone +44 (0)116 252 2072
  • Professor James Pringle, Director, UKAFF, University of Cambridge, telephone +44 (0)1223 337548
  • Dr Matthew Bate, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, telephone +44 (0)1223 337529.

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